It was quite unusual for us to not be up and on the road at the crack of dawn. On this particular trip from Fruita, Colorado to Colorado Springs, we decided a 08:30 departure time was just fine. The 300-mile journey usually takes about five and one-half hours. That may sound like a long time, but it is such a beautiful drive and the time goes by quickly.
The roads were clear for the entire route. However, on some of the mountain passes, where there was still a tremendous amount of snow on the sides of the road, there were some wet patches. The snow was beginning its spring melt. As we crested the Continental Divide at Hoosier Pass (11,539 feet – 3,517 meters), I remarked at how amazing it is that the droplets of snow melt on either side of the pass end up in different oceans. The snow on the east side melts and drains into the Mississippi River, then the Gulf of Mexico, and finally mixes with the Atlantic Ocean. The snow on the west side melts and drains into the Colorado River, then the Gulf of California, and finally mixes with the Pacific Ocean.
Our norm for the trip had been stopping for lunch at the Pizza Hutt in Fairplay. That was especially true when our children were young and accompanied us on our trips back and forth. Leslie and I were excited to stop there for lunch, relax a little, and reminisce about previous family trips. That would not be the case on this trip.
As I turned to approach the Pizza Hutt, I saw a large for sale sign. The Pizza Hutt was just an empty building now. We were still hungry. I turned around and drove back about one-half mile to the Subway in the gas station. We ordered our subs and sat there to eat. We were both still stinging from the disappointment.
On the way out of the gas station, we bought some bottles of water. We mentioned our disappointment regarding the Pizza Hutt affair. She shared that her boyfriend had worked there. The owner of the franchise shut it down because of employee embezzlement. Armed with that knowledge, we got back in the car and completed our journey.
Every time I travel to Colorado Springs, my trip is not complete unless I visit the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. During our visit, we saw several art students on the upper floor, each of them sketching what they saw. We struck up a conversation with one of the young men. We discovered his father is a professor at Colorado College. His name is Andrew Ramiro Tirado. He made the piece “Lacuna.” A photograph of that piece appears here, followed by some of my other favorites.
While I was in Colorado Springs, I went on a photo trek with two good friends, Ron Krom and James Harris. James has a website showcasing his photographs. One can find that at James Harris Photography.
The site we selected was Helen Hunt Falls. That waterfall is in Cheyenne Canyon on the southwest side of Colorado Springs. I always enjoy photo treks because I always learn something new. I use the new knowledge to try to improve my photography skills.
March 10 was an odd day. I arrived in Los Angeles before I left New Zealand. The International Dateline is an amazing imaginary line on the planet.
I am not much of one for numerology, but I found it unique that my flight was NZ6; it departed from gate 6; and my seat number was 6K.
The flight pushed back from the gate at 19:42 (on March 10), eight minutes early. Once we made our cruising altitude, the flight attendants began serving. The meal began with the following:
Prosciutto with radicchio salad, asparagus, grilled artichokes and blue cheese.
Roasted chicken breast with roasted cauliflower and currant couscous, green olive tapenade salsa and broccolini.
A selection of fine New Zealand cheese served with plum and tamarillo chutney and cracker selection.
After dinner, I settled in to watch a movie. I started with La La Land because of all the hype. It did not last long. I just could not get into the movie. I switched to A Cat Named Bob, but I had the same result. I ended up watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a movie I have probably seen a dozen times.
Finished with the movie, I went to sleep with my other 28 roommates. It surprised me how bumpy the flight was, all through the night.
When I awoke I asked for a cup of black coffee. It was very relaxing to drink my coffee while listening to Vivaldi. Then came breakfast:
Fresh fruit salad with a croissant.
Omelette filled with sun dried tomato and spinach mornay, roasted tomato and piccata ham.
I arrived at LAX at about noon (on March 10). That was nearly eight hours before I left New Zealand!
I checked into the Marriott Residence Inn on Century Boulevard. One thing I really wanted to do was visit the In-N-Out Burger near LAX. Mr. Google was kind enough to let me know the restaurant was only about one mile from the hotel. I decided to walk.
In about 20 minutes I was within a few hundred feet of the In-N-Out Burger. I stopped there because I was directly underneath the flight path for runway 24R at LAX. It was fascinating watching the planes overhead, seemingly so close that one could almost touch them. When I tired of that, I finished my walk to the restaurant.
In the parking lot, one must navigate through the endless stream of vehicles in the drive-through lane. Entering the In-N-Out Burger, I was instantly in a sea of people. I was soon able to discern there were three less than perfect lines leading to three cash registers. I began my wait about seven or eight people from a register. I used my time to review the menu. It was surprisingly short and inexpensive. For example, for only $5.95, one could have a cheeseburger, French fries, and a drink. That was my meal of choice.
After ordering, the sea of people shifted a little to one side while everyone waited for their order. I found a small piece of real estate near the drink machines on which to stand. From that vantage point, I could see there were nearly as many employees behind the counter as there were people waiting. The choreography was amazing as an endless stream of orders made their way through the galley and back to the front counter for distribution.
Soon, I heard my order number called. I picked up my order and walked outside. There are several tables outside. I found an empty table on the south side that was directly adjacent to the flight path for runway 24R. I sat there enjoying my lunch, thrilled by each jet that flew by me. It reminded me of watching the planes landing at Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten (please see my St. Maarten post, https://arewethereyettravel.blog/2013/01/05/st-maarten/ ).
I walked back over to the flight path when I finished lunch, just to watch a few more jets. That was when I saw an Emirates Airlines A380 fly overhead on final approach. For those that do not know, an Airbus A380 is a double-deck airplane; the largest passenger airplane in the world. Watching that lumbering beast approach, I found it hard to believe that nearly 1.5 million pounds (700 tons) of metal can fly. The plane appears as though it should fall out of the sky.
The second item on my to do list for the day was to visit Venice Beach. I hailed a taxi and sat back for my $40 ride.
The taxi driver dropped me off at North Venice Beach Boulevard and Ocean Front Walk. I walked through the parking lot and across the beach. I stood there watching the Pacific Ocean roll onto the beach.
Back on Ocean Front Walk, people were swarming and strolling along in both directions. Mostly food outlets and tourist shops populate Ocean Front Walk. I began my stroll heading north. I quickly noticed one additional type of shop, medicinal marijuana. Each medical marijuana shop had several people standing in front. As pedestrians stopped, the medical marijuana staff tried to determine what medical problems the pedestrian may have and if medical marijuana was the cure. As anyone who knows me might imagine, I simply kept walking.
Very shortly, I found myself standing near a garish orange building at Muscle Beach. There were a few weightlifters in the “weight pen.” I enjoyed seeing something I had heard about for so many years, but never visited.
Near the “weight pen” were some benches. I sat on one of the benches and watched the other people on Ocean Front Walk. I captured photos of many of them.
A little farther along, I found Zoltar in front of some small shops. The fortune telling Zoltar machine had a starring role in the film Big. It was a wish at Zoltar that turned a 12-year old boy into an adult, played by Tom Hanks. I do not know if this may have been “the” Zoltar, but I took a photograph anyway.
There were many eclectic people on the Walk. I saw a man playing a grand piano. Hunching over the keyboard meant I never saw his face. His moppish hair also made it difficult to see his face. Not far from him, I saw a man on a tricycle decked out in full mountain-man buckskin; including a fox hat. I do not know how he stood that outfit. I thought it was entirely too hot to dress like that. He was talking with some men that appeared to want to film him for some sort of film.
Ocean Front Walk is a pedestrian walkway. However, from time to time, a police car, a lifeguard car, or even a firetruck drove along the Walk.
By far, the oddest sight was the Venice Beach Freak Show. It is a greenish-gray building on the Walk. The signs on the building touted such things as “See the Freaks of Nature,” “Lady Twisto,” and “Giant Rat.” Sitting on the stairs to the Freak Show was a bearded lady. In front of her, on the sidewalk, was a little man. They both tried to get passersby interested in buying a ticket for the Freak Show. I opted out.
The final sight of the day was a man carrying a cross along the Walk. After seeing him, I found a taxi and rode back to the hotel.
I was at LAX early the next morning for my flight to Denver. The flight was uneventful. The plane went right by Grand Junction, my final destination. I found myself wishing I could get off right there. Regardless, it was on to Denver. As we flew, it was easy to see just how much snow was still in the Rocky Mountains.
At the Denver International Airport, I had time to kill before my final flight. I went into a restaurant overlooking the tarmac. I had some nachos and a beer, something that is very hard to find in Wellington, New Zealand (the nachos, not the beer).
After a one-hour flight, I had finally made it to Grand Junction. I had not seen Leslie since the first part of February. Even worse, I had not seen our son, Tyler, since December, 2014. It was a great reunion.
We collected my baggage and drove the 20 minutes to Fruita, Colorado. That is where I saw our daughter, Hillary. This was the first time the Vice family had been all together since December, 2014, when Tyler graduated from Naval boot camp. It was wonderful to be as a family again.
Wellington, New Zealand – March 3, 2017
A good friend of mine came to me and said he needed my help. He wanted to pick up a Princess from New Zealand’s South Island. It sounded a little odd to me. Luckily, he explained exactly what help he needed.
He found a 1966 Austin Vanden Plas Princess for sale online. He contacted the owner, made an offer, and closed the deal to become the new owner of a 51-year old sedan. He wanted me to go with him to retrieve the Princess and bring her back to Wellington. I agreed to help.
On a Friday afternoon, we left work a little early to make our 18:00 flight on Sounds Air. I knew Sounds Air was a very small regional airline based in Wellington. I assumed we would fly in a Cessna Caravan 208, much like the one I flew on between Georgetown, Guyana and Paramaribo, Surinam. I was wrong. Our wings for the early evening flight was a smaller Pilatus PC12. I was excited. I remembered reading about the Pilatus when they debuted in the mid-1990s. I thought they were amazing planes. I always wanted to fly one, but a ride would have to do.
Honestly, we were both a little nervous about the flight. That was thanks to the 76 km/h (47 mph) wind gusts.
The plane held nine passengers. We were lucky enough to get the first two seats, directly behind the pilot and co-pilot. The pilot gave the flight safety briefing. When complete, she took her seat, started the plane, and began our taxi to the runway. Neither of the pilots seemed to be fighting the wind. I thought that was a good thing.
We took off to the north. I was really expecting a bumpy takeoff because of the winds. It was incredibly smooth. I settled back in the seat and enjoyed the view.
Our route took us directly over Wellington and then toward Picton. The Queen Charlotte Sound, amongst the other sounds on the north end of the South Island, is a very beautiful area. When I took the ferry from Picton to Wellington the previous November, the ferry route goes through Queen Charlotte Sound. Seeing it from the air provided a uniquely beautiful view.
The Pilatus PC12 has a top cruise speed of 500 km/h (311 mph). That meant we covered our 270-kilometer (168 mile) route in about 45 minutes. By the time we neared Westport, we were in the clouds. During the descent, I watched out the front windscreen. It seemed to take forever to get beneath the clouds so I could see the runway. We landed with no problems in a light rain shower.
The ex-owner of the Princess met us at the Westport Airport. He parked the Princess right by the front door of the terminal building, awaiting our arrival. We placed our bags in the boot and got in the Princess for the first time. The red-leather seats showed signs of wear, but they were in surprisingly good condition. In fact, for a 51-year old lady, the Princess looked great.
Driving around the edge of the airport, we ended up at the ex-owner’s airplane hangar. He brought us there to go over the ins and outs of the Princess. He also showed us some of his other project vehicles in the hangar. He was quite a character. He had been a topdresser (crop-duster), but he made his money hauling petroleum products.
While my friend talked to the ex-owner, my eyes roved throughout the hangar. Suddenly, I spotted a sign; “Beware Low Flying Aircraft.” As a former pilot, I have always had a fondness for aviation memorabilia. So, I thought I would do my best “American Pickers” imitation. I asked him if he was tired of owning the sign. He told me the sign belonged to the local aviation museum. He could not sell the sign.
The conversation between the two men continued, although we had all migrated to a different location in the hangar. That is when I spotted a couple of wooden propellers hanging on the wall. I asked him if the aviation museum owned those too. He said those belonged to him. They were from his old topdresser plane. He asked if I wanted one. The word “sure” shot out of my mouth at the speed of a Pilatus! He reached up and gave me one of the propellers. He gave the other to my friend.
After the propeller exchange, he led the way to our motel while my friend and I followed with the Princess. We stopped at the Chelsea GateWay Motor Lodge. After dropping off our bags, we went in search of dinner.
We selected the Denniston Dog Café & Bar. I had the Blue Cod. Freshness must count, because it was delicious. My friend opted for the trio sampler. It included pork, lamb, and beef; brought to the table raw. The server also brought a heated stone on which my friend could cook the meats to his personal satisfaction. It looked very good, but I was more than happy with my fish.
During dinner, we discussed the New World supermarket we passed on the way to the restaurant. We thought we would stop by on the way back to the motel and pick up something for breakfast the next morning. That turned out to be an error in judgement. When we drove back to the supermarket after dinner, we found it locked up tight. We went back to the motel and turned in for the night.
The next morning, we decided to return to the same restaurant. The night before, we noticed breakfast on their menu. We arrived in front of the restaurant only to discover it was not yet open. We did not want to wait around. We were trying to make a 13:00 ferry sailing at Picton. We thought we could find something else in town for breakfast. The only establishment open was Subway. We stopped. Maybe I ordered the wrong thing, but I did not really like my “breakfast.”
As soon as we finished eating, we departed. Our 284-kilometer (176 mile) journey was to take about four hours. In the United States, the same journey would be more like a three-hour drive. The difference in timing is not due to speed limits, but rather the road itself. The road to Picton, as is the case with most of the roads in New Zealand, is not straight; it is rife with many twists and turns. Regardless of the road design, the drive was stunning. I think two of the most spectacular areas were the Buller River Gorge and the vineyards of the Marlborough wine region.
The Princess did just fine on the journey. We arrived at the Picton ferry with about 30 minutes to spare before the loading began. This trip was on a Bluebridge ferry.
On the ferry, we sat near two older women. We talked with them off and on throughout the sailing. We discovered they had been touring the South Island for the last several months in their motorhomes. They were anxious to return home.
The weather for the sailing was great. Crossing Cooks Strait was a little bumpy, but not bad.
Shortly after 18:00, the Princess was on the North Island.
Castlepoint, New Zealand – February 18, 2017
I was up early because I was excited. I had a ticket for Wings Over Wairarapa, an annual air show held in Masterton, New Zealand.
By about 06:30, I was in my car, on my way to Macca’s (McDonald’s) for a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee. The weather was certainly dicey. It was cloudy and lightly raining. Regardless; I thought the weather might clear up once I got on the other side of Rimutaka Range. After finishing my brekkie, I got back in the car and headed north on Highway 2.
Crossing the Rimutaka Range, descending to Featherston saw no letup in the clouds or rain. So much for wishful thinking. I continued toward Masterton.
Approaching Masterton, I began to see electronic signs providing directions. The signs designated the preferred lane for use by those driving to the airshow. I followed the directions. Shortly, near what appeared to be the entrance to the Hood Aerodrome, I ended up in a queue of about six cars. Each car stopped and the occupants talked at length with the lone man directing traffic. When I arrived at the traffic director, he told me the promoter cancelled the airshow for that day. That was so disappointing. I did wonder why none of the electronic signs displayed the closure information.
I turned around. As soon as I found a safe spot, I stopped and assessed what to do next. I remembered recently reading an article in the newspaper about the small town of Castlepoint. I realized I was only about an hour away from the town. I dialed in TomTom and headed east. Like so many other drives in New Zealand, the scenery was spectacular. However, the clouds and rain dogged me all the way.
At Castlepoint, I stopped at a parking area overlooking the bay and lighthouse. The rain was heavy. Regardless, I snapped a few photographs. From there, I drove to the trailhead parking area for the Castlepoint Scenic Reserve. I could see the lighthouse; but, because of the weather, I opted to not walk out to the lighthouse.
I did see several boats on trailers on the sandbar. They launch the boats by tractors or other similar machinery that allows the boat to back into the water. The weather was disappointing, but I vowed to return with Leslie to spend a weekend at Castlepoint.
My next plan of attack was driving back to Featherston, having a wood fired pizza at my favorite restaurant, drive back over the Rimutaka Range, and go home. I set TomTom for home.
Before I departed Castlepoint, I stopped at the Castlepoint Store. I wanted a bottle of water and a snack for the drive. Walking inside, I saw several of the reach-in freezers congregated in the center of the store. The woman that owned the store began to apologize for inconvenience. She told me the store flooded the night before because of all the rain. That surprised me.
I drove back to Masterton, fully expecting to turn left, heading south on Highway 2. However, TomTom kept trying to get me to turn toward the north. I found a place to pull off the road and took a closer look at TomTom. From Masterton to our home is about 83 kilometers (51 miles). Under normal conditions, the drive is about 1:20. That day, TomTom continued to show my trip’s distance was 232 kilometers (144 miles), with an estimated travel time of nearly 3:30. The plotted route would have taken me to Palmerston North, over to the west side of the North Island, and then south to home. I tried resetting the device several times. Regardless of my attempts, the results were the same.
I decided I knew how to get home. After all, I simply had to head south on Highway 2. As I got to the outskirts of Featherston, I could almost taste the pizza. The road curved to the right. When I rounded the curve, I immediately found myself in an endless line of vehicles. As quickly as I could, I made a U-turn and parked. I grabbed my phone so I could get on the internet to try to find out what was going on. Suddenly, I understood why TomTom wanted me to go the other way. Officials closed Highway 2 because of an accident and diesel spill on Rimutaka Hill.
There was no reasonable way to get to my pizza restaurant. My hunger demanded satisfaction. I remembered hearing about a place to eat at Lake Ferry. It was only about 35 minutes away. I apologized to TomTom for doubting and set my new destination. Until this trip, I had no idea TomTom was “tuned in” to local traffic conditions.
It was no longer raining, but the cloud cover persisted. I arrived at Lake Ferry and parked in front of the only business; the Lake Ferry Hotel. I went into the café. It was surprisingly full. I ordered the seafood chowder and a beer. It was so hot inside, I opted to sit at a table on the covered terrace. Before coming to New Zealand, I was not a fan of chowders. But here, they are amazing.
I ate my lunch looking out onto Lake Onoke. Feeding the lake is the Ruamahanga River. The river and the lake drain directly into Palliser Bay. Because of this draining and the tidal action, the area is very dangerous for swimming. A sign not too far from the hotel warns one of the dangers.
After lunch, I drove a little way out onto the beach. From where I parked, I walked to the edge of the beach. The edge was really a small cliff of about eight or ten feet. I was there as the tide was going out. The water was angry. It was easy to see why there are so many warnings about swimming in the area.
When I got back in the car, I checked TomTom. I could see the route home was now direct. That meant the road over the Rimutaka Range had opened again.
When I got home that afternoon, I was tired. Without really trying, I had driven about 385 kilometers (239 miles). No wonder I was tired.